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A Security Guard, a Flyer, and a Second Chance

Greater Miami Service Corps connects out-of-school youth to education, employment, and a chance to improve their community. This story is part of a series on the innovative ways that 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund community partners, supported by America’s Promise Alliance and the Citi Foundation, are placing low-income young adults on a path to career success.

Esperanzita Castillo, 20, dropped out of school when she was in the sixth grade

“Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. My mom was really, really sick and my father had left us, so I had no other way.”

At the age of 14, both she and her 17-year-old brother left school to help support their family. Two weeks after she left school, she got a job at a store that sold perfume, where they paid her cash. When she turned 18, she started working as a security guard at an apartment building, but she lost the job due to commuting challenges in September of 2015.

She and her brother went to a local career services organization to apply for jobs, but they had no luck. On their way out, a security guard stopped them. He told them about a flyer he had seen for a program that helped young people age 18-24. “They help you with your education,” he told them, “and they help you get a job.”

A Security Guard, a Flyer, and a Second Chance
“My mom was really, really sick and my father had left us, so I had no other way,” Castillo said about her decision to leave high school. After losing her job, a security guard at a local career services center told Castillo about Greater Miami Service Corps. Photo taken from organization’s website and published here with permission.

The program was called Greater Miami Service Corps (GMSC), a nonprofit that helps young people get an education and employment through community service projects like building and landscape maintenance, disaster relief assistance, and removing debris and litter.

Many of the students who enroll in the program have been emancipated from foster care or have spent time in the juvenile justice system. Many are single parents, and many are just like Castillo—young people who faced tough circumstances when they were younger and are looking for a second chance.

A Security Guard, a Flyer, and a Second Chance
Castillo (left) with Miami-Dade County District 1 Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez, and VISTA Member Emily Alejo. Photo credit: Deborah Dorsett.

GMSC provides that second chance for young people, along with a stipend, mentors, educational opportunities, scholarships, and career preparation. Since its founding in 1990, the program’s efforts have paid off.

Young people who finish the program are less likely to be arrested or face unplanned pregnancy. Seventy-eight percent of young people who left high school without a diploma go on to earn one, and 30 percent pursue secondary and post-secondary educational opportunities after they finish, according to the program’s website.

A Security Guard, a Flyer, and a Second Chance
Castillo (left) said being able to give back to her community is her favorite part of the program. Photo credit: Deborah Dorsett.

“When I found the Greater Miami Service Corps, it was like the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” Castillo said. “They teach you how to dress, how to speak, how to communicate with others, how to work, how to build a resume.”

“They help you with everything,” she continued. “They’re with you through the end and they make sure you get the help you need. They train you how to see the world through a different point of view.”

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GMSC received a Youth Opportunity Fund grant in 2016 to strengthen corps-to-career program services. “This includes providing young people with work experience through county, state, and private organizations and connecting out-of-school youth to secondary, post-secondary and employment placement,” said GMSC Executive Director Deborah Dorsett.

“It also includes connecting our members to the necessary support services such as transportation, housing, childcare, counseling and other services necessary as our young people transition to adulthood and self-sufficiency,” Dorsett continued.

A Security Guard, a Flyer, and a Second Chance
“I don’t know what I would do without the program,” Castillo said. “It’s more than a program, it’s a family.” Photo Credit: Deborah Dorsett.

The organization currently serves 300 young people through two program locations in North and South Miami-Dade. Not only does the program significantly improve the lives of these young people, but the work that young people engage in has a substantial impact on the community.

Painting homes, removing graffiti, mitigating crime by boarding up pools, doors, windows, and foreclosed and abandoned homes, rehabilitating apartments for low income individuals, and performing conservation work at local parks—these projects allow young people to become “stakeholders in their community,” Dorsett said.

This aspect of the program—being able to give back to the community—is Castillo’s favorite part of her time with GMSC. She started in April 2016 working on projects with both YouthBuild and AmeriCorps, where she does everything from painting and picking up leaves to landscaping.

A Security Guard, a Flyer, and a Second Chance
“They’re with you through the end and they make sure you get the help you need,” Castillo said about GMSC. She and her brother (right) graduated high school in June 2017. Photo credit: Jenna Lugonj.

Castillo will finish the program in August 2017. She said she’s loved being able to share her experience with others in the program, “and show them that there’s a second opportunity in life.”

“Thanks to [the director] and the rest of the staff in the program, my brother and I have achieved something in life. We will continue to go farther, thanks to them,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without the program. It’s more than a program, it’s a family.”

The day after Castillo provided the interview for this story, she graduated from high school. She is currently enrolled in an online criminal justice program at Penn Foster and wants to attend Miami Dade College North Campus. Her ultimate goal is to become a police officer.

The Youth Opportunity Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative. Pathways to Progress launched in 2014 in the United States with a $50 million, three-year commitment that helped more than 100,000 young people, ages 16-24, across 10 cities to become career-ready through first jobs, internships, and leadership and entrepreneurship training. In February 2017 the Citi Foundation announced a global expansion of the Pathways to Progress initiative with a $100 million, three-year investment to prepare 500,000 young people for today’s competitive job market. Read more stories like this one here.